Parshas Kedoshim: Put on a Sweater I'm Cold
דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־כָּל־עֲדַ֧ת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל וְאָֽמַרְתָּ֥ אֲלֵהֶ֖ם קְדשִׁ֣ים תִּֽהְי֑וּ כִּ֣י קָד֔וֹשׁ אֲנִ֖י יְהוָֹ֥ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶֽם:
Speak to the entire congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them, You shall be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy. (Vayikra 19:2)
When I was a child I had a very wonderful but also typical Jewish mother. How I dressed in the New York winters was very important to her (as it should have been!). I must admit that I was not always the most respectful child. There were times when my mother would ask me to dress warmer than I felt necessary and instead of listening I would argue with her. "Just because you're cold doesn't mean I need to put on a sweater!" In the end I would put on the sweater and take it off when I got to Yeshiva. When we examine the passuk above, Hashem instructs us to be holy because God is holy. But this is exactly like my mother telling me to put on a sweater because she is cold! God is holy. Good for him! How does God's holiness obligate us to be holy? If God wanted to tell us to act in a holy fashion he should have said to us that we are holy and we should act in accordance with our inner reality. To explain this question I once heard a beautiful moshul. Imagine for a moment someone who decides to open up a franchise of a world renowned restaurant. He approaches the parent company and offers to buy in as a franchisee. For a million dollars they will provide him with the company recipes, logo, equipment and restaurant paraphernalia. Knowing that this business will make the money back he accepts their offer and opens the store. Six months later business is off to a good start. He is slowly making money and learning the tricks of the trade. One day several representatives of the parent company walk into the restaurant to do an inspection. They are dismayed by what they see. The food is good but the decor and general cleanliness of the restaurant is well below their expectations. They pull the owner into the back and show him a list of things that must be improved immediately. The owner, none to pleased about the criticism responds, "I gave you your million bucks now leave me alone. It is my restaraunt and I will run it as I see fit. As long as I'm making money I really don't care if you think the decor is subpar." Calmly the representatives explain to the owner that while it is true that he owns and runs this particular franchise, how he runs his business reflects on the rest of the chain. When his store is filthy,customers associate filth with the brand and this is bad for the overall business. The representatives explained that if the cleanliness of the restaurant did not drastically improve by the time of their next inspection his franchise rights would be revoked.
So too with us. We have a part of ourselves that is holy. It's called a soul. Asking us to be holy is not foreign to the human condition. On the other hand we have a body that is not interested in holiness. The body is interested in self preservation and often those desires run contrary to leading a holy life. So it is not natural for us to behave in a holy fashion either. If that's the case, how can God ask to be holy? I understand how God can say that we should do our best to be holy but sometimes we are able to overcome our desires. What should we do in those situations? One answer is that we can remind ourselves that we are God's franchisees in this world. As Jews we represent Him. If we are only running our own show then it is OK for us to say sometimes we live through the lens of our soul and other times we see the world through the paradigm of the body. We are getting more wins than losses and we are ok with the direction we are moving in. But as God's emissaries in this world we have heightened responsibilities. What we do matters. When Jews behave in a Godly way we reveal Hashem in this world. When we don't…
It is interesting to note that while the Rambam (Sefer HaMitzvos - Shoresh 4) sees Kedoshim Tihiyu as “a general exhortation to keep all the commandments of the Torah and to be holy by complying with its precepts and restrictions” Rashi sees it as Mitzva to "abstain from inappropriate sexual relationships and from sin." The Ramban follows the general direction of Rashi but expands the Mitzva to include abstaining from overall indulgence and to be careful not to become a "menuval bireshus HaTorah" (a degenerate in the name of the Torah). It is possible for someone to not violate any commandments and yet they are still outside the spirit of the law. They engage in overeating and drunken behavior and while they haven't done any aveiros they are acting in a fashion that is specifically unholy. Why do Rashi and the Ramban take the approach that Kedusha requires abstention? Kadosh means set aside or designated. The process of marriage in the Torah is called Kedushin. Intimacy means exclusivity. The couple is set aside for each other and only for each other. So how do we know if we are in an intimate relationship with Hashem? We must examine if we are living our lives for ourselves or for Him. Our life belongs to him but it is lent to us to perform His mission. In that way we are his representatives. Just because we are not doing aveiros does not necessarily mean that we are fulfilling His mission. Even those things that are permitted to us must be done in a Godly fashion without overindulgence. The conflict between the body and the soul that we all struggle with is human. The decision to lead a life of Holiness is what defines us as His.